Anime

Review of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 2: Trapped by a Promise and That’s Not a Teddy Bear

Quick Summary

In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Askuka episode 2, "Daily Life and Comrades in Arms," Asuka Ootorii is relieved that her magical dampening field prevented her friend Sayako Hata from recognizing her during the terrorist incident. But Asuka is worried about Sayako, because all is not well with her... The military continues to hound Asuka to rejoin despite her refusals. That is, until they find the perfect lure in Kurumi Mugen, who was friends with Asuka before they were Magical Girls. The promise she made to Kurumi drew Asuka back into the fight, just like her friendship with Sayako had done. Can two Magical Girls together stand up against what at first looked like and old foe -- but turned out to be something much worse? And just what was the promise that Asuka had made to Kurumi?


Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious. 

What's in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Asuka gave one of the most concise and accurate descriptions of the problem humans have with remarkable power. She's far too young to understand it so well... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 1

I have a hobby I rarely discuss with anyone. No, not that kind of hobby! I mean the study of power and what it does to humans. You can see that theme playing out when I talk about Layfon from Chrome Shelled Regios or Ayato from The Asterisk War. In this episode, Sayako is still working through her emotions in the aftermath of the terrorist attack (which is itself awesome -- I too rarely see a show treat that kind of the thing with the gravity it deserves). She knows she was saved by a Magical Girl, so she wonders what strong girls like them think about all the time. Asuka got all quiet and contemplative; she'd obviously been considering this at length (9:50). Her answer? "They're just doing their best," she said. She explains that great power, like great riches, changes people. "I think the Magical Girls are still trying their hardest to make sure that their power serves them, and not the other way around." Otherwise, she's afraid they'd go insane. Not only did I think this was a great insight into Asuka's character (offering another explanation for her reluctance to fight), but I think it's some good foreshadowing, too!

Sayako collapses from the effects of just hearing a siren -- after a single terrorist incident. That's normal! But Asuka has been dealing with even worse situations for years... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 2

I mentioned in my review of the previous episode that this show had impressed me with its respectful treatment of PTSD. That theme continued into this episode, but this time from Sayako's perspective (11:38). She was walking home with Asuka and their friend Nozomi Makino when they heard a police siren. Immediately, memories from yesterday's terrorist attack flooded her mind, and she dropped to her knees. She hugged herself, completely helpless with fear. Asuka, no stranger to that reaction herself, talked her friend through it. But the message was clear. Sayako was a bright, happy, normal high school girl. Just one experience with combat nearly destroyed her. Granted, she had no training, and she was also beating herself up about not even thinking to try to help anyone. But training can only do so much, and the intent to save anyone else might have also gotten Sayako killed. If Sayako felt this way after one experience, just what does Asuka have to deal with, day after day, year after year?

Asuka was the one who convinced a reluctant Kurumi to become a Magical Girl. Kurumi's sole condition? That Asuka would always protect her. Asuka promised to do that. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 3

Asuka's been steadfast: She has no intention of joining the special ops team. Her resolve was so strong that I was beginning to wonder what technique the show would use to align her with the show's title -- or would she remain a free agent? Looks like she's going to join, because as we see in a flash-back (14:49), it was Asuka who convinced Kurumi to become a Magical Girl. Kurumi agreed with one stipulation: because she didn't feel strong, she asked Asuka to promise to always protect her (15:22). So when Asuka got the call that a Halloween-class Disas magical weapon had shown up in Japan, and Kurumi was the only Magical Girl in position to confront it, it seems that Asuka made her decision. She went to her friend's aid. 

Thoughts

So one of a Magical Girl's powers is to suppress their identity, even to the point of it working with cameras? That's a clever way to allow Asuka and Kurumi to attend school as if they were normal young women. Maybe that's a staple of Magical Girl shows -- I've only seen a handful of examples, like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, so maybe I just need to get out more.

Am I being dense by not knowing who the "very bad Magical Girl..." is? Is she really Mia Cyrus, who was the only blonde Magical Girl in the remaining five, or is she someone else? Given how much they've obscured her face, maybe I'm not supposed to know for sure yet...

She might not be the most powerful Magical Girl, but Kurumi as War Nurse sure has great timing! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

And the bear was playing catch with a severed human head? Talk about gruesome... (16:05). Did you notice that the bear was about to kill a little girl who was cowering behind her injured mom? Did you see that the little girl who was holding a Magical Girl-like wand? For some reason, that made the scene a little more emotional. That little prop made it more clear that the little's girl's life, aspirations and all, was about to end. I was really glad to see Kurumi show up (16:30). Though I'm still trying to get used to her title War Nurse!

I'm struggling with one thing in this episode. It's something that's at odds with one of the reasons I like this show, so I'm hoping it won't become a bigger issue later on.

Remember that terrorist whose lower legs Asuka removed in the previous episode? There was a scene in this episode where a special police unit "interrogated" him. By pulling out his teeth and otherwise torturing him.

That bothered me, not because torture is a problem from a moral perspective. It is. But it bothered me here because I've lauded this show's realistic portrayal of PTSD, but here it is suggesting that torture is an effective way of extracting information from someone.

It isn't. Torture doesn't work.

I'm sorry, but it doesn't matter how many books you read or movies your watch. Torture just doesn't work. One has to wonder about the people who still advocate for it... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

You don't need to take my word for it. The National Center for Biotechnology Information, a part of the United States National Institute of Health, republished an article from British Journal of General Practice. That article was crystal clear on the effectiveness of torture. The article said:

The CIA’s enhanced interrogation programme was, by its own admission, ineffective, morally catastrophic, and founded on fiction. CIA operatives admitted they based their approach on Jack Bauer, a character in 24, for whom torture generally saves the day.

With Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka continuing its realistic portrayal Sayako's PTSD-induced reaction to the sirens, I really hope this episode's inclusion of torture is a one-off. Even better, I hope that the series will demonstrate that, as the article from the British Journal of General Practice says, "[ there is ] evidence that punitive behaviour encourages lies, not truth." It'd be great if the terrorist would lie just to stop the torture -- and those lies would cause problems for our heroes. 

I think that might be too much to hope for, but hey, it's only the second episode! Aside from this misstep, Asuka's still doing well, so maybe I should try to be optimistic.

What did you think of this episode? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

Other Posts about This Series

12 thoughts on “Review of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 2: Trapped by a Promise and That’s Not a Teddy Bear

  1. The torture scene didn’t bother me so much. It seemed fairly pointless and it didn’t seem like they cared if he answered the questions or not, but it ended up being such a minor part of an episode with so much else going on that for now I’ve just kind of not worried about it. If it becomes a reoccurring theme I may need to rethink that.

  2. “Am I being dense by not knowing who the “very bad Magical Girl…” is? Is she really Mia Cyrus, who was the only blonde Magical Girl in the remaining five, or is she someone else?”

    Someone else… In Ep1 Mia is shown as being in Mexico and I think Yoshiaki refers to her being in her goverment’s service. The Queen is plainly in Tokyo.

    1. “Someone else… In Ep1 Mia is shown as being in Mexico and I think Yoshiaki refers to her being in her goverment’s service. The Queen is plainly in Tokyo.”

      That makes sense. Like I mentioned in my reply to Dawnstorm, I hadn’t realized they could still make new Magical Girls, so I was trying to match the bad Magical Girl to the five we saw in ep #1.

  3. The torture didn’t stand out. Did they say it works? I don’t remember them getting any results, but I didn’t pay that much attention. To me, the torture is on a list with the bear playing catch with a head. One more gruesome thing.

    Nozomi being the police chief’s daughter is a little worrisome, but I’m not sure, if torture’s involved, it’s going to be about retribution. Retribution for what? That terrorist doesn’t matter enough. For spoiling a plan? If they’re going to torture her it might as well just be for fun (depends how broken they are; our main antagonist has referred to themselves as “bad magical girls”, so there’s no pretense for idealism; maybe there is a goal, and its hidden beneath a layer of cynicism?).

    Personally, I think Sayako/Nozomi are in immediate danger of becoming magical girls, though I’m not sure about the mechanism. Asuka’s ex-commanding-officer seems to respect her, so I don’t expect underhanded tactics from him. Maybe Kurumi?

    1. “I think Sayako/Nozomi are in immediate danger of becoming magical girls”

      I couldn’t tell from what we’ve seen so far, but are they still “making” Magical Girls? Apparently, there are still Disas around. Does that mean the alliance with the spiritual realm is still active?

      “Asuka’s ex-commanding-officer seems to respect her, so I don’t expect underhanded tactics from him.”

      That was my impression, too.

      “Maybe Kurumi?”

      She _does_ seem awfully sweet — too sweet, maybe?

      I think it’s a good sign that the show can generate this kind of discussion!

      1. I don’t know about the alliance, but I sort of assumed if they’re not losing their powers, there’s ongoing support. That may not be true. In any case, anyone from the other world could probably forge a contract, alliance or no; that’s irrelevant to my theory, though, as that assumes official possibility (which, you’re right, there may not be).

  4. I didn’t think the show was endorsing torture in that scene, true it wasn’t condemning it either but I think it was just showing that it’s something that exists and something that’s going to become a plot point later. Like I imagine a confrontation with one of the enemy magical girls and them saying something like “you think your police are without sin, but they’re just as bad as us!” Or something like that… I’m always thinking ten steps ahead, it’s my damn writers brain! lol

    1. You know, I don’t think I was clear — I didn’t mean to say that the show endorsed torture, just that the show seemed to suggest torture works.

      But your idea here caught my attention:

      “Like I imagine a confrontation with one of the enemy magical girls and them saying something like “you think your police are without sin, but they’re just as bad as us!” Or something like that… I’m always thinking ten steps ahead, it’s my damn writers brain! lol”

      That makes a lot of sense.

      And now I realize that the show didn’t _really_ say that the police got any useful information out of the terrorist. Just that the torturer was really motivated.

      Interesting…

      It’s going to be fun watching how this plays out!

      1. My writer brain is making me worry about something even worse now. Seeing that the torturer’s daughter is Nozomi now I’m worrying the bad magical girls will find that out, kidnap Nozomi and torture HER as retribution. God I hope I’m wrong, Nozomi is best girl. Also I don’t want to see any of our girls being tortured…

        1. It’s hard being a writer and watching fiction, isn’t it?

          Man, I hope that scenario doesn’t play out! But you’re right; it’s plausible…

Please let me know what you think!

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